Jim was floored: The CIA really did eavesdrop on Dad.
Now Jim, 64, a retired Navy public relations officer who lives in Anne Arundel County, is waging an operation of his own against the agency. For the past five years, he has sought to declassify and make public any documents Langley might still have on his father and why he was wiretapped.
So far, the CIA has released to Jim a handful of intriguing documents. But Jim has been trying to compel the agency to cough up more. A federal declassification review panel is reviewing Jim’s case and could decide as soon as this month whether to direct the CIA to release more Mockingbird documents.
“I don’t have any animosity for the CIA,” said Jim, whose father died at the age of 80 in 2001. “I respect what they do. But they make it extremely difficult for the average citizen to interact with them. It makes me wonder what they are still trying to hide about my father.”
Not eager to share
It’s not easy penetrating one of the world’s most secretive organizations.
Tourists can’t just show up at its famous headquarters, let alone wander into its museum or browse the gift shop that sells CIA T-shirts and tchotchkes. Even former spies-turned-memoirists need agency approval for their manuscripts before publication and often can’t reveal seemingly harmless or boring details about their careers.
For ordinary people — academics, journalists, relatives of former employees — extracting agency information can be tough. They can file Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act requests or mandatory declassification review requests. But the CIA usually isn’t eager to part with much, said Steven Aftergood, director of the project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.
“I have a number of requests with the CIA that are more than five years old,” said Aftergood, who has sued the agency a handful of times for documents.
“The message they’re sending is, ‘If you want our attention, sue us,’ ” he said, calling it “a time-consuming and resource-demanding effort.” He usually loses.
Todd Ebitz, an agency spokesman, said the agency received more than 5,400 Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act requests, along with mandatory declassification review requests, in fiscal 2012 . The agency doesn’t keep track of how many of those requests come from ordinary citizens, rather than journalists, academics or nonprofit groups.